Canadian grandmother accused of pirating zombie game

Screen grab from Metro 2033 Image copyright Metro 2033
Image caption Some 86-year-olds may play first-person shooters but Mrs McMillan says she is not one of them

Canadian grandmother Christine McMillan does not include killing mutants among her hobbies, neither does she play the games that would allow her to do so.

So when she received a letter accusing her of illegally downloading first-person shooter Metro 2033, she was surprised.

She had never heard of the game and did not understand why she faced a fine of thousands of dollars.

The firm that sent the letter said the incident was "an unfortunate anomaly".

It is now mandatory for Canadian ISPs to forward copyright infringement notices to customers whose IP address has been identified by content owners as being the source of illegal downloads.

It is part of the Canadian government's Notice and Notice regulations, introduced under last year's Copyright Modernisation Act.

The regulation requires that infringement notices issued by content owners are forwarded to users.

"I found it quite shocking. I'm 86, no-one has access to my computer but me, why would I download a war game?" Mrs McMillan told Go Public - an investigative news team from Canada's CBC TV network.

Metro 2033 was released in 2010 and is based in the ruins of Moscow, following a nuclear war. Players must defeat an evil mutant race, which some gamers refer to as zombies.

At first, she thought it was a scam but after calling her internet service provider Cogeco, she realised that the notices are perfectly legal.

Mrs McMillan told Go Public: "It seems to be a very foolish piece of legislation."

Thousands of Canadians are likely to have received similar notices, which warn them that they have been identified as having downloaded content without paying for it and offer a one-off payment to avoid the case going to court.

Copyright holders such as game developers and film studios are typically hiring third-party firms to collect money from the alleged pirates.

In this case, the private firm Canadian Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement (CANIPRE) sent the letter.

It read: "In the event that this matter remains unresolved and/or you continue to engage in the unauthorised copying and distribution of copyrighted works, you could be in violation of the Acceptable Use policy you may be party to with your ISP."

In response to a BBC enquiry, the firm said that what it described as the "McMillan notice" was "simply one of multiple of thousands of notices that we handle monthly".

It accused ISP Cogeco of being "unreliable" in the way it "reconciles the IP... to the appropriate subscriber".

It went on to offer a one-off payment of 5,000 Canadian dollars ($3,700, £3,000) to settle the case. Mrs McMillan said she has no intention of paying.

'Relying on fear'

There is no legal obligation to pay the fines, according to experts, who point out that an IP address is not proof of guilt because the connection could have been used by someone other than the bill payer.

Allowing others to use your internet connection does not make you responsible for copyright infringement, according to the UK's Citizens Advice.

Similar cases have arisen in the UK in recent years.

Last year, thousands of customers of O2 and Sky received letters demanding cash for illegally downloading pornographic films. While Sky stopped short of telling users not to pay, it advised them to "carefully read the letter".

According to copyright news website TorrentFreak, such schemes rely on fear.

"The power of the settlement scheme lies in the uncertainty people face. Most recipients are unaware of the notice-and-notice system and fear that a lawsuit is looming. However, thus far not a single lawsuit has followed in these cases," it said.

CANIPRE told the BBC that it would take a case to court in Canada soon.

"We will establish a precedent case here in Canada concerning copyright infringement. We have many substantive case files to choose from and will establish a legal precedent here in due course."

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